Green Your Commute

Go Green While Getting Around

Green commuting offers an opportunity to make a big difference for the environment.

By Jon Fisher

With 75 percent of Americans getting to work by driving solo, green commuting offers an opportunity to make a big difference for the environment. And with many cities offering a “Guaranteed Ride Home” program to bikers, carpoolers and public transit users, there’s no reason not give one of these options a try.

There are four basic types of green commuting:

  • Telecommuting,
  • Carpooling or “slugging,”
  • Taking mass transit, and 
  • Human-powered commuting.

American workers spend an average of 47 hours per year commuting through rush hour traffic. This adds up to 23 billion gallons of gas wasted in traffic each year.

But there may be other benefits to telecommuting; more privacy than your cubicle; peace and quiet for increased concentration; and, of course, no commute is shorter than one to another room in your house.

If you’re interested in telecommuting, the first step is to check with your HR department to see if they have guidelines about telecommuting. You may need to present your supervisor with explanations of how telecommuting option would work for you. You’ll also need a home computer with Internet access, a phone and a good workspace.

Carpooling and “Slugging”

Most people are familiar with the idea of carpooling, but probably don’t know how much easier it’s gotten! With the proliferation of HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes, it has become faster to get to work by carpooling than by driving on your own. Web sites like NuRide or eRideShare allow you to search for other people commuting from near your home to near your work. You can carpool as often as you’d like, and even earn rewards like restaurant gift certificates for carpooling!

“Slugging” is a way to get into the HOV lanes without having a formal carpooling arrangement. Sluggers go to a designated pickup area to meet people looking for a ride. You get matched up with people going to the same location, and share the ride. The driver gets to use the HOV lane, and the “sluggers” get a free ride!

Mass Transit

Switching your daily driving to using public transportation typically saves more than $800 a year in transportation expenses and decreases the household carbon footprint decrease by 10 percent. 

One of the best things about taking mass transit is being able to use your commute time to read, work or just relax! Most cities have Web sites that will help you plan your trip via public transportation (Google “mass transit” and your city name to find them).

It may take you a little longer to get to work by mass transit than by driving, but being able to skip the traffic jams, parking fees and carbon emissions in favor of just relaxing may well be worth it.


Human powered options allow you to reduce your carbon footprint, save money and get health benefits all at the same time.

If you’re intimidated by the idea of getting to work this way, start by talking to some of your coworkers who bike or walk to work. They can help you figure out things like good routes to take, where to shower and where to find bike and trail maps.

If you think you want to try bike commuting or running, give it a shot sometime when the weather’s nice, and you may be pleasantly surprised! After sitting at a desk in a windowless room all day, getting a bit of exercise and sunlight can be a welcome relief.

But biking and walking aren’t the only ways to get some exercise on the way to work. Laura Baker and Colin Shanley, Conservancy staff members in southeastern Alaska, recently spent a week kayaking to work. Despite driving rain and 30 mile-per-hour winds, they arrived to work refreshed and motivated.

“As I paddled across the channel, I listened to the sound of rain drops hitting the ocean while a curious harbor seal popped its head out of the water to check us out,” Laura said. “Not a bad commute, not bad at all.”

Just Do It!

If you need any more incentive to try a greener commute, try calculating your commuting costs online. You might find that one of the green options could save you hundreds of dollars a year. So whether you do it to shrink your carbon footprint, your parking bill, or your waistline, give green commuting a try! 

Jon Fisher is a data management specialist for The Nature Conservancy in Arlington, VA, and a daily bike commuter.


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